After going without food for 24 hours and sleeping overnight in a self-constructed box, Tiffany Czebiniak feels fortunate that her exposure to homelessness and hunger was relatively short.
"I learned that there are many people who are hungry every day. All of these people are lucky to get food or something to drink, while we throw out hundreds to thousands of scraps of food each day," remarked Tiffany, who attends St. James Church in Waverly.
Tiffany, 12, was among 35 youths and 10 adults from Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes who took part in a 24-hour food fast Feb. 10-11. Along with this act of abstinence, participants engaged in hunger-related prayer and education and also raised funds for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) by securing sponsorships totaling an impressive $1,033.25.
Junior-high and senior-high youth groups representing all four Tioga County worship sites — St. James; St. Patrick, Owego; St. Margaret Mary, Apalachin; and St. John the Evangelist, Newark Valley — took part in the fast. For an opening activity, they met early Friday evening, Feb. 10, at an area supermarket for a "shopping challenge" with each youth purchasing as much food as possible for $5. All items were donated to Tioga County Rural Ministry in Owego to support the local poor.
Later that night everybody headed to St. Patrick Church for a "Beacon of Light" prayer service. There, world hunger facts were presented and youths were asked to ponder how they can help stop this problem.
"They were very thoughtful in their reflections," said Kathy Hamilton, youth-ministry coordinator for Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick.
Petitions were offered during the service for such causes as a decrease in the number of people — especially children — dying from hunger and disease; governments to work together to end poverty and hunger in poorest places; people to share their resources and become more aware of hunger issues; food to be evenly distributed; and the reasons for — not just the effects of — hunger to be treated.
Following the prayer service, participants returned to their respective worship sites to sleep (St. Margaret Mary’s group stayed at St. Patrick.) On Saturday, a busy slate of activities saw St. Patrick/St. Margaret Mary serve lunch at a soup kitchen in Endicott; St. John the Evangelist prepare food for a parish bake sale later that weekend to benefit CRS; and the Waverly youths gather for further lessons on poverty. The food fast ended at 4 p.m. Saturday, with two worship sites — St. Margaret Mary and St. John the Evangelist — holding soup dinners to denote the breaking of the fast.
Gavin Jackowski, 14, from St. Margaret Mary, said it was tough to not eat for 24 hours but "what I liked was hanging out with my friends to keep our mind off food." He added that working at the soup kitchen was particularly memorable: "The challenge of serving food after not eating for about 20 hours is humbling and it makes you feel what people go through when they have to go hungry."
Gabe Barbieri, 18, also from St. Margaret Mary, added that he "became so hungry over the weekend that I became literally sick to my stomach and too weak to sit up on my own. It made me realize that there are people whose last moments are spent with this sort of pain and misery. It was rather angering to know this sort of injustice happens every day, although I’m not entirely sure how to improve that situation on my own."
Hamilton noted that the Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick’s emphasis on poverty and hunger predated the food fast. On the weekend of Feb. 4-5 the parishes’ junior- and senior-high youths conducted "Souper Bowl" Sunday, staging collections at each worship site for four area food pantries: Tioga County Rural Ministry; Helping Hands, Berkshire; Project Neighbor, Newark Valley; and The Bridge, Waverly. A combined $910.80 was raised from the Souper Bowl, which takes place across the United States on Super Bowl weekend and aims to temper the excess associated with that football game by recalling the plight of the hungry.
According to Hamilton, the food fast is a cherished annual tradition at Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick.
"Youth have informed us that it is one program that stays with them as adults. It allows them to bring forward a sense of caring for their brothers and sisters in their local communities as well as throughout the world," she said.
Tiffany said she enjoyed taking part in the fast because she got to have fun with her friends while also becoming enlightened about hunger in such a way that it "was a real eye-opening experience for me." She added that the wisdom she acquired and the funds she helped raise made the food fast a highly worthwhile venture.
"I’m happy to make the world a better place," she stated.
Hamilton acknowledged that the food fast’s focus on the needy carried special meaning this year, as many area residents are still struggling in the wake of devastating floods last September that impacted much of Tioga County. She noted that in early February St. Patrick’s junior- and senior-high youth groups, along with their parents, baked cookies and hand-delivered the goodies and Valentine’s Day treat bags to Owego homes that were hardest hit by the flood.